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Nick Chubb's Contract Extension Signals The 'Browns Tariff' Is Over

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb carries the ball during a practice drill.
Erik Drost
Wikimedia Commons
Terry Pluto says Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb and the Browns "met in the middle" on a contract extension.

For years, the Cleveland Browns have had a hard time attracting — and keeping — good players. But that could be changing. Three key players have agreed to contract extensions in the last year, including running back Nick Chubb, who on Monday signed a three-year, $36 million deal. Terry Pluto says the team's longtime reputation for dysfunction has led to what many call the "Browns tariff."

The Browns tariff

What was previously a dreaded football destination has now become a desired location for NFL free agents and top draft picks. High profile players like Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb are more than enthusiastic about signing on for the long-haul in Cleveland. However, there was a time when the Browns were widely viewed as a dysfunctional organization. And it was a long time.

“It became half a joke among some NFL executives and agents that the Browns had to pay a tariff if they wanted to keep a free agent or bring a guy in,” Pluto said.

In other words, the Browns had to compel good players to come to Cleveland with a salary higher than market value.

“You had to pay extra to convince the guy to go to this deplorable football situation,” Pluto said.

For example, the 2015 Browns went into the season with the highest-paid defense in the NFL. Aging defensive players like linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner signed four-year deals at $24 million and $28 million, respectively.

Ultimately, shelling out big money didn’t amount to big wins. The Browns finished the season 3-13, with coach Mike Pettine and General Manager Ray Farmer being fired.

“You could go to Cleveland and get paid, and it’s all you’re going to get,” Pluto said.

Ending the tariff

Last year, former No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett signed a five-year, $125 million extension. Unheard of in Browns town, Pluto says this was the first telltale sign that the tone towards playing in Cleveland was shifting.

“He is one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL, but he’s not the highest,” he said. “It would’ve been easy for Myles to just say ‘I’m going to play this out.’”

Garrett has racked up double-digit sacks in each of the past three seasons, and was one of the reasons defensive end Jadeveon Clowney signed with the Browns last offseason. The two give the Browns a formidable pass rushing duo on the edges.

“I haven’t run into too many guys like (Garrett) in the National Football League yet,” Clowney said during June minicamp. “Took me eight years to get here and find another one like that on defense. It’s great. I just know he’s going to go out there and do his thing.”

Garrett’s move signaled a shift in attitude towards Cleveland, followed up by running back Kareem Hunt. In September, Hunt signed a two-year, $13.25 million extension to remain in Cleveland through the 2022 season.

Chubb's extension came just before he enters the final season of his rookie contract.

Modern analytics-driven executives like Browns GM Andrew Berry and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta often don't want to pay running backs huge salaries because their shelf life is relatively short.

“Basically, they say don’t pay more than $10 million a year for a running back,” Pluto said.

But Chubb wanted to get a deal done to stay in Cleveland. So, the two sides met in the middle at $12 million a year.

"The Browns paid more than they wanted, and I'm sure the agents took less than they wanted," Pluto said.

“(There's a) changing perception of the franchise in the eyes of the players and the agents,” he said. “That it’s okay to play in Cleveland now because they’re actually on the right direction.”

Getting deals done for Mayfield, Ward

For now, all eyes are focused on what Berry does with quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has two years left on his rookie contract. Last year, the 26-year-old signal caller led Cleveland to its first winning season in 13 years.

“I think he’s going to sign an extension, and I think they’re going to get something done maybe by the start of the season,” Pluto said.

Other players on the horizon for extensions include cornerback Denzel Ward and even further down the line, left tackle Jedrick Wills, who impressed in his rookie year protecting Mayfield’s blind side.

Pluto adds that the alignment of Berry, DePodesta, and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski has eliminated the toxicity that used to drag the Browns down in the past.

“All those leaks, and what (owner) Jimmy Haslam called ‘internal discord,’ that stuff stopped,” he said. “That gives the Browns a chance to be competitive and very good for the next few years.”

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